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Sri Lankan Government Disputes Eligibility of Opposition Candidate in Presidential Election

Even before the results have been announced for the country's first peacetime Presidential election, Sri Lanka's . His main rival is the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

While vote counting was underway late Tuesday, the country's foreign minister, Rohita Bogollogama told reporters the government would go to court to declare the former military chief, Sarath Fonseka, ineligible to run for president because he is not even a registered voter.

"It's an act that will be bordering on criminal lines," he said. "You deceive the public to believe that you can be elected when in fact the consequences may be you are not entitled or eligible or suitable to be elected."

Mr. Fonseka acknowledges he was not able to cast his ballot because his name was not on the voter registration list. While balloting was still going on, the former general told reporters that despite the glitch he is legally qualified to be elected and serve as President.

"But am I qualified as a Sri Lankan citizen for all purpose as per the Article 31-1 of the Constitution," said Mr. Fonseka.

The country's Election Commissioner, in a written statement, is supporting Mr. Fonseka's interpretation of his eligibility. However, top government officials contend that is just an opinion and it will be up to the courts to make a legal ruling on the matter.

Before voting began, the two main political camps of Mr. Fonseka and incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa traded accusations of election laws violations and of preparing to use force, should the results not turn out to their opponent's satisfaction. Both campaigns are expressing confidence they will win the Presidential election when final vote tallies are released around mid-day, Wednesday.

It is estimated that more than 65 percent of eligible voters went to the polls nationwide Tuesday. But fears of violence and intimidation - and lack of transportation - are partly blamed for keeping turnout as low as 20 percent in the Tamil-dominated North and East.

With the Sinhalese vote believed to have split between the president and his top challenger, minority Tamil voters are seen as possibly critical to swinging the election.